Musical Legends: by Justin Green, 112 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Jun 04, 2007

I was reading this book on a plane and the woman next to me wouldn’t quit reading over my shoulder. The first couple of times I looked in her direction, she tried to act like she wasn’t reading the book. The third time I caught her, she asked me questions about the book: where I got it, what it was all about, etc. The fourth time I caught her, I said, “Would you like to borrow this for the rest of the flight?” She said, “Yes,” and I had to find something else to read. I guess that’s a pretty good recommendation for how engaging this book is. It collects roughly one hundred, one-page comics about musicians from various genres and time periods. Justin Green has obviously done his research, and he fills you in on interesting facts about people you didn’t think you cared about: like when he talks about the time when Harry Belafonte wasn’t allowed to touch Petula Clark on TV because prevailing standards wouldn’t let a black man touch a white woman. Or when you learn about Del Shannon quitting drinking and taking prozac in an attempt to clean up his life so that he could join the Travelling Wilburys (the prozac didn’t work; Shannon killed himself). Or when you learn about Joe Venuti, who one time offered to take requests from the audience, and when a woman requested he play, “Feelings,” Venuti berated the woman, saying that “Feelings” was “the worst goddamn song I ever heard.” Or when you learn about band leader Fats Waller breaking the color line in major league baseball by playing a couple of songs at Yankee Stadium, as per Babe Ruth’s request. There are tons of little tidbits like that in this book. Justin Green has a knack for drawing me into the lives of musicians that I wouldn’t ordinarily pay the least bit of attention to. More than half of the comics are in full color, and this book can keep you interested through nearly four months of bathroom visits. –Sean (Last Gasp, 777 Florida St., SF, CA 94110)